A man who has grown into healthy self-acceptance and prominence in the LGBT community as the head of an LGBT center in Mississippi says that his journey included a nightmarish detour into "reparative therapy" counseling that used sexual assault as a means of attempting to turn him straight.
Jeff White, 32, says that as a high school student in the 1990s he endured repeated episodes of same-sex rape that the perpetrator claimed would help him embrace heterosexuality. White claims that the abuse continued over a three-year period.
The alleged assaults took place when White was a teenager living in Walls, Mississippi. White was a student at Bethel Baptist School at the time of the alleged sexual assaults, which he claims were carried out by a teacher named Steven Barnes.
The church to which White's parents entrusted their gay son ran the school. When White came out to his parents in 1996, he says, their response was to turn him over to the church's "conversion therapy" program.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights issued an Aug. 27 press release in which it announced that the NCLR "helped file a complaint with the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department on behalf of" White.
"After more than a decade of emotional turmoil, White heard about NCLR's #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in five years," the release stated. "He found the courage to come forward because he wants to ensure that what happened to him will not happen to other children and to raise awareness about the dangers of attempting to change someone's sexual orientation."
"After growing older and witnessing so many who are still harmed by the church and by efforts to correct homosexuality through traumatic and damaging tactics like the ones used against me, I finally realized that it is my duty to stand up against those who have harmed me," White was quoted in the release.
"By speaking out against the wrongdoings that were committed within the walls of Bethel Baptist School, I hope to shed light on the darkness that is so easily hidden within the church, and to help ensure that no one else suffers the pain that I had to endure."
In an Aug. 27 article, the Washington Blade reported on Bethel Baptist School.
"'Character and patriotism are taught in the classroom,' reads a description of the school on the Bethel Baptist Church's website," The Blade reported. "'The curriculum is Bible based and every student is taught the truths of God's word.'"
According to White, the older man's sexual assaults were rationalized as a form of aversion therapy. "He would rape me because I was gay and because it would make me hate men and make me change," the Blade quoted White as saying.
White went on to become the executive director of Mississippi's premiere LGBT center, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, the release noted. Barnes, meantime, rose to the position of Assistant Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church.
"NCLR is joined in this case by Hawkins & Gibson, PLLC, a law firm with a long history fighting for the rights of children abused by adults in positions of authority, including members of the clergy," the press release said.
The NCLR was instrumental in seeing laws passed in California and New Jersey banning so-called "conversion therapy" programs targeting minors.
Reputable members of the psychiatric community have decried such programs as ineffectual and potentially quite damaging to sexual minorities who are subjected to their attempts to "cure" them. A growing body of scientific evidence supports the position that homosexuality is not a pathological condition, but is rather a normal part of naturally occurring variance in sexual orientation.
From our media partner EDGE